Rev. Anthony Thompson, pastor of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church in Charleston, spoke words of wisdom in his Lenten Sermon at First Baptist Church of Charleston. His sermon reminded me that it is time for me to forgive myself for unkind words I spoke recently out of anger. I have already apologized to the other party. I was also reminded of the sermon from my friend, Rev. Brian Skar of Minot, North Dakota. Perhaps we could all use reminding.
Romans Chapter 12 is one of the most remarkable and important chapters in all of Scripture. It starts with a call for believers to live extraordinary lives as living sacrifices and to conform not to the world but be transformed by the Spirit into instruments of God’s will. Then Paul goes on to encourage us to discover, hone and put to use our spiritual gifts.
The last half of the chapter, starting with verse 9 is an exhortation to embrace love in its greatest and purest form. It is a call to humility and service and forgiveness. And then verse 18: “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live in peace with all.”
Peace is included in the list of the fruits of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23. Peacemakers are counted among those who are blessed in the Beatitudes. Now, there is an inner peace, “the peace that passes all understanding,” but that’s not the peace of the above passages. Having that inner peace certainly makes it easier to live a life seeking inter-relational peace as well.
So if a desire for living in peace with others is one of the primary Christian virtues, why do Christians have such a reputation of belligerence. We like to say it is because we are taking strong stands on morality and defending our faith. But in my experience, many Christians just like to do battle. They like the confrontation. They like to stick it to those who oppose them. Perhaps they are even sold on the lie that wrath confrontation is profitable for the Kingdom.
Many Christians honestly believe “If we can just punish those sinners enough, they will see the light and repent and convert.” But both experience and common sense teach that such a strategy never really works. Coercion is not the Biblical means for bringing people to the Lord. The adage “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” is an absolute truth.
So if we are to be peacemakers rather than strife mongers, where do we start. First, we have to change our minds. We have to believe in our hearts that what the Bible has to say about this is the truth. Second, we have to change our words. Jesus taught us in Matthew 15:11 that it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person. In Matthew 5:22 Jesus give a harsh warning to those who hurl insults. Paul warns about the dangers of foolish joking and crude talk in Ephesians 5:4. Earlier in Ephesians 4:31, he admonishes believers to put away all forms of bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice.
If we can replace the malice in our words with kindness, it will not be long before our hateful actions will turn to acts of love. That’s where we should live. That’s what will truly profit the kingdom of God. Quoting Publius Syrus: “Speech is the mirror to the soul; as a man speaks, so is he.